Buran

It would certainly be a mental lurch not to mention at this point the Soviet Union's version of the Space Shuttle, which also rode piggyback into orbit. Buran, Russian for "snowstorm," flew only once, on November 15, 1988. This was almost exactly 1 year before the Berlin Wall, that concrete symbol of the Iron Curtain, came crumbling down.

At first glance, the Buran launch configuration bears an uncanny resemblance to the US Space Shuttle, with its familiar ET and strap-on boosters (Fig. 7.5). But that is where the similarity ends. The launch vehicle for the Buran spaceplane was actually the Energiya liquid-fueled rocket. Unlike the Shuttle, Buran's main engines were not

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Fig. 7.5 Buran spaceplane piggybacking its way to the launch pad atop its Energiya booster. Russian rockets are transported horizontally before erection at the pad (courtesy http://www. buran-energia.com )

located in the tail of the orbiter but at the base of Energiya. Also, the strap-on boosters used liquid propellants rather than the solid propellants used by the Shuttle. A third difference is that Buran was to have had built-in turbojets. This means that it would be able to make go-arounds on landing, and ferry itself through the atmosphere rather than relying on a piggyback ride on occasion (Fig. 7.6). Finally, Buran was able to fly in a completely automated mode, unmanned, which is what it did on its one and only flight. The Russian spaceplane flew successfully and made a perfect automated landing after two orbits of the Earth.

Unfortunately, lack of funding led to its inevitable demise. Not only was the Buran vehicle never finished - launching into orbit unmanned because of an incomplete environmental control system - but storage facilities afterward were evidently inadequate, because Buran's hangar roof caved in on May 12, 2002, and the spaceplane was destroyed. Like the Berlin Wall and the empire that built it, Buran met a somewhat inglorious end.2

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